The province of Nova Scotia on Canada’s east coast is home to some of the world’s most competitive offshore wind acreage but has to this point been overlooked due to the relatively limited power demand growth in its home market. This might rapidly change though with falling clean-energy industrial costs and new ‘molecular’ routes-to-market.
The decommissioning and abandonment of Nova Scotia’s Sable offshore oil & gas field in 2019 marked the end of an era, the project having lived a full generation, putting the tiny province – which has a population of under 1 million – on the map as an energy exporter, and providing local employment in the blue economy.
But surprisingly, the bigger prize may lie on the nearing horizon, as Canadian and international offshore energy developers have begun to wake up to the potential of a local wind resource is nothing short of exceptional.
There are large prospective areas with mean winds of 10.5 metres per second or more – on par with or better than much of the North Sea and richer than the wind resources off the US states to the south on the Atlantic seaboard, where billions of dollars of offshore wind projects are now lining up to be built.
And, crucially, Nova Scotia has a number of large shallow banks off its coasts that would provide opportunity for siting large projects at depths where low cost fixed-bottom foundations could be in employed.
The question of ‘how to sell these electrons’ has held back development of this world-class energy resource. Unlike many international offshore wind regions, where power is being brought to landfall to help supply major cities such as New York, Taipei and London, Nova Scotia has a relatively little local demand, with its capital city, Halifax, and the rest of the province satisfied by around 3GW of local generation flanked by hydro from neighbouring provinces.
This route-to-market hurdle may soon be overcome by the sheer strength of Nova Scotia’s wind resource. With newer, ‘molecular’ options for commodifying electricity – like hydrogen, ammonia, methanol and other power-to-x solutions – it becomes more important than ever to hunt the most competitive and abundant resource, rather than to catering only to local market needs.
In molecular form, energy can serve other decarbonisation paths in home market, but also support the global shipping industry or export to other hydrogen hungry markets. The continuing price reduction of building offshore wind, and this mindset shift will bring more attention to the amazing offshore wind resource of Nova Scotia and could elevate this rocky peninsula on the edge of the Atlantic to a leading location for low carbon fuels and shipping. Its strategic location and existing port infrastructure would complete the puzzle.
For Nova Scotians, offshore wind is an opportunity for inclusive economic growth and diversifying an already strong blue economy. The province has a substantial commercial fishing industry, which will bring unique opportunities for cooperation to achieve benefits for the ecosystem and new means of livelihood.
Also, it has engaged indigenous communities, having experience contributing to major developments like the Sable oil & gas project, could also provide valuable input to the province’s offshore wind development.
When I graduated engineering from Dalhousie University, in Halifax in 2003, job prospects brought me and much of my Nova Scotia-born cohort to the oil patch in Alberta and abroad. Offshore wind power and hydrogen could present the coming generation of graduates with decades of opportunity in their place of birth and bring many expatriate Nova Scotians home to help make it happen.
· Scott Urquhart is founder of Copenhagen, Denmark-based offshore wind analytics firm Aegir Insights